OUT WITH KIDS’ MENUS!

November 1, 2014

french-fries-and-chicken-nuggets

So let me be bold and say it: YES I am TOTALLY AGAINST KIDS MENUS as they are currently presented in the majority of restaurants. The usual triad of chicken nuggets and fries, cheese and tomato pizza and tortellini is sad. Sad, because at a restaurant we have a wonderful opportunity for children to taste new foods, to sample familiar foods presented differently, and to enjoy eating food in a social environment which may be more conducive to exploration and discovery. I applaud parents who ignore the typical Kids Menu and get half portions or sharing portions from the regular ‘adult’ menu for their kids. I applaud restaurants who offer this option and have no Kids Menu! I appreciate that parents often resort by default to the Kids Menu in the name of meal tranquillity, getting some food into their kids’ bellies and avoidance of food waste, but what a limited option we are offering our children! And we are setting them up for life to have a limited palate (not to mention the likelihood of a less-balanced diet).

Interestingly, this week the Washington Post ran a front page article on just this topic (click link below). It seems to have created a buzz on a national level in the US. Can we extend this buzz internationally? Parents, food and nutrition educators and chefs worldwide….unite and take action now!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/advocates-want-restaurants-to-stop-catering-to-young-diners-with-kids-menus/2014/10/30/ef0297d2-561c-11e4-892e-602188e70e9c_story.html

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GMOs: What’s a consumer to do?

July 9, 2013

Presentation1GMOS are in the news yet again. The controversies re their health and economic value abound, as does the ‘evidence’ for and against their production/cultivation and release on the market.

The World Health Organisation – WHO – defines genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. In their 20 Questions on GM foods they specifically discuss the safety of GM foods. “Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods. GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health.” Note the phrase – “not likely”.

Some argue that GMOS can solve World Hunger. Yet the FAO Director General, Jose Graziano da Silva, seems not to agree. In March 2013 he issued a warning saying that GMOs not needed to eradicate hunger.Our position as FAO is not that we are against GMOs but we are saying we don’t need them now to eradicate hunger.” He expressed concern about the impact GMOs have on the environment. “We don’t know what will happen to areas of production and the crops.”

Due to an interview I was involved in recently (see here: http://www.sundaycircle.com/2013/07/crop-wars/), I have been talking about GMOs to a couple of people and they were all asking the same question: “So as a consumer what is the bottom line?”

As a health and consumer educator —  a Home Economist — I would say that:

  • We still do not have enough data on the potential risks to human health in the long-term from consumption of GMOS.
  • We already have evidence on the impact on the environment and on social and economic aspects related to farmers. It is not always so positive.
  • So we might want to be a bit cautious still… Some people might even decide already to avoid GMOs altogether for health and ethical reasons.

My Key Messages for (Maltese) Consumers

1. Read labels on packaged foods. If the food contains GMOs it will say so; not necessarily on the front of the package; but in the ingredients list. Some companies will voluntarily put a label that their food does not contain GMOs. This will typically be on a food which consumers might think could contain GMOs (e.g. soy products). This label is often somewhere quite visible.

 2. Buy organic as much as possible. Any food which is certified organic cannot contain GMOs. Look for the official EU label. new_EU ORGANIC logo

 3. If you buy your chicken meat from a local source, ask the producer if the feed given contains GMOs.

The same goes for local eggs. Ask the producer if the layers are given feed containing GMOs.

It is more difficult to check re feed given to other local animals slaughtered for meat which we buy through the butcher or at supermarkets.

4. Avoid the ‘Big Four’ as they are often called. Most GM ingredients are products made from the ‘Big Four:’ corn, soybean, canola (also known as rape seed), and cottonseed, used in processed foods.  Some of the most common GM Big Four ingredients in processed foods are listed below*. REMEMBER: It will be stated on the label if these GM ingredients are present :

Corn
Cornflour, cornmeal, corn oil, cornstarch, gluten and corn syrup
Sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose and glucose
Modified food starch

Soy
Soy flour, lecithin, protein, isolate and isoflavone
Vegetable oil and vegetable protein

Canola/Rapeseed oil
Canola/rapeseed oil, additives made from canola/rapeseed oil

Cottonseed
Cottonseed oil, additives made from cottonseed oil

5. For sweetened foods, check on the ingredients list for the type of sugar used. You might find GM beet sugar as one of the ingredients.

 *May be derived from other non-GM sources

Sources:

http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/

http://www.gmeducation.org/government-and-corporations/p207350-un’s%20food%20and%20agriculture%20organisation%20issues%20gmo%20warning%20.html

Think. Eat. Save. Food waste is not allowed!

June 5, 2013

Image                                                           Happy World Environment Day! The UNEP theme for this special day is Think! Eat! Save!

So much food is wasted needlessly in the world. Are you part of this wasteful chain? Zero waste is a goal sought by many individuals and organisations – especially when it comes to food. Good menu and shopping planning, as well as good waste mangement are key (Does this recall Home Economics skills anyone? 🙂 ) So make that extra effort today to ensure that any food you buy or prepare to eat will be consumed 100%. And then make this a habit in your household and workplace as from tomorrow.

Here are just a few examples of what others are doing around the world:

Think.Eat.Save (International) – This initiative, launched by the U.N. Environment Programme and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, works to reverse food loss and food waste by providing consumers, retailers, leaders and the community with advice and ways to take action to reduce their yearly food waste.  The campaign aggregates and shares different methods of conserving food, including policy recommendations and steps that consumers and households can take on their own to prevent waste.

Culinary Misfits (Berlin, Germany) –Started by two friends, Culinary Misfits seeks out the ugly vegetables at grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants and turns them into delectable dishes at the events they cater in the city.

Love Food, Hate Waste (United Kingdom) – This program teaches consumers about food waste and provides them with helpful portioning and planning tips, as well as an array of recipes to make sure food doesn’t go to waste.

Stop Spild Af Mad (Stop Wasting Food) (Denmark) – Danish food expert Selina Juul’s campaign inspired Danish supermarket Rema 1000 to replace buy-one-get-one-free and other quantity-based discounts with general discounts in all of its stores. Such discounts, frequently implemented by grocery stores to get produce off the shelves, often result in food being wasted at home.

FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies) (European Union) – After recognizing that the European Union discards approximately 89 million tons of food every year, Brussels has pledged, through the FUSIONS program, to reduce that number by half by the year 2025. Currently in development, FUSIONS hopes to tackle the issue throughout the supply chain, working with farmers so that they don’t reject less-than-perfect-looking produce. And they work with grocery stores to offer discounts to consumers on products that are nearing their expiration dates.

Songhai Centre (Sub-Saharan Africa) – The Songhai Centre is a sustainable development organization that, among other projects, teaches environmentally conscious farming practices in rural areas in Benin, Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their agricultural education is based on a policy of production totale zéro déchet (zero waste total production) – in the organization’s own words, “the byproducts of one field are valuable raw materials for another.”

University of Cincinnati SolerCool (Ohio, United States) – Developed by MBA students at the University of Cincinnati, this solar-powered refrigerator runs on eight solar panels to keep food comfortably cool when it is being transported.

Sanford and Son (Illinois, United States) – Sanford and Son is a father-and-son company that works in the West Side of Chicago to repurpose food waste for urban farms. Ray Sanford and his son Nigel recycle food waste from restaurants and private homes and convert it into organic compost, which is then distributed to urban farms to use as fertilizer. They claim to save 226 kilograms (500 pounds) of organic waste for each family that uses their composting services.

(Source of examples — Food Tank: The Food Think Tank)

Halloween comes to Malta

October 29, 2011

So Halloween has come to Malta big time.

Up till a few years ago you would perhaps hear of a Halloween party here and there among university students or other groups where there were a few individuals visiting from the  USA. But nowadays the shop windows and shelves are full of Halloween paraphernalia. I have even seen specially designated crates in supermarkets and local corner shops with bagfuls of packaged trick-or-treat sweets.

So why am I writing about this?

As a Home Economist…

I feel this sharing of special holiday rituals is something which helps us appreciate each other’s cultures and also enriches our life experiences.

I also think this is a great opportunity for children and young people to be creative; perhaps designing their own original costumes and producing them by reusing materials available at hand; or carving out pumpkins and other fruit or vegetables to make their own special lanterns.

I am afraid that the commercialisation of this holiday event is really rampant and that perhaps it could lead to overspending on items of limited lasting value. How many children will want to wear the same costume the following year, or still be able to wear it size-wise? (Of course costume-swapping could be an idea to consider.)

As a Maltese Home Economist…

I think it’s good to see Maltese children and youth finding another opportunity to get together and do things as groups; also getting some physical exercise  by spending a few hours touring their neighbourhoods on foot, or dancing away at some organised party.

I am concerned however that this will become yet another occasion for children to overeat and store up on lots of sweets and high-sugar, high-fat foods as they go round trick-or-treating. (See this blog post and video from US Nutrition Educator Connie Evers on trying to offer a healthier trick-or-treat experience to children: http://truthonhealth.org/blog/2011/10/18/guest-blog-connie-evers-cast-a-healthy-spell-on-trick-or-treaters/;
http://www.katu.com/amnw/segments/132794868.html)

I am also concerned that Halloween is stealing away from the focus on our local traditions related to this time of the year.  Apart from the religious rituals attached to Jum il-Qaddisin Kollha (All Saints’ Day, November 1) and Jum l-Erwieħ (All Souls Day,  November 2), I am also thinking of the folklore and food associated with these feasts.

I commend the confectionery shops which have continued to produce the traditional All Souls Day sweet – a bone-shaped almond paste-filled pastry called Għadam tal-Erwieħ (Souls’ Bones). Symbolically, they were meant to encourage Christians to remember their deceased loved ones and friends and to pray for the souls of the dead who were not yet in paradise.

I also commend any organisation, company or catering outlet which is trying to revive awareness of the All Souls Day Minestra tal-Erwieħ (Souls’ Minestrone) and Ħanżira tal-Erwieħ (Souls’ Pig); two dishes which were meant to encourage generosity with the poor.

On All Souls Day, Franciscan priests used to set out huge pots or cauldrons in the town and village streets and the locals could add any vegetables they had available at home. Eventually, these pots were placed over a heat source and the Minestra tal-Erwieħ was cooked. This soup was then made available to the poorer residents of the
locality.

Il-Ħanżira tal-Erwieħ was another charitable tradition. A few weeks prior to All Souls Day, one of the wealthier village or town residents would buy a pig, tie a little bell around its neck and let it loose in the neighbourhood.  People could hear the pig approaching from inside their homes and would go out and feed it. On All Souls Day this fattened pig was captured and slaughtered. The pig was then cooked (often roasted) and also shared with the poor of the locality so that they would be able to have some meat.

IDEA! Maybe the Borża ta’ San Martin (St Martin’s Bag) tradition could become our day for Maltese children to go trick-or–treating. On the feast of St Martin, celebrated each year on November 11, Maltese children traditionally receive a bagful of nuts (e.g. walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts), dried fruit (e.g. figs), a special sweet
dough bun (Ħobża ta’ San Martin) and seasonal fruit (e.g. tangerines and pomegranates). Rather than find the bag hanging on their bedpost,  children could go round their neighbourhood collecting tasty, seasonal nutritious goodies for  their borża.

(Għadam tal-Erwieħ image courtesy of Jubilee Foods)

May 1: Celebrating Workers’ Day…with a twist

May 1, 2011

You might be wondering why I’m celebrating International Workers’ Day on a blog related to food. The answer is simple: Unless we are self-sufficient and produce our own food, we rely on hundreds, if not thousands of workers around the world to do it for us.

In Medieval Europe, the first day in May was celebrated as a general holiday to herald the coming of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. During the 1880s workers used the existing holiday as a day to celebrate workers’ solidarity. In 1890, Workers’ Day was recognised internationally for the first time.

Workers’ Day reminds us that all people who work deserve a fair wage and decent working conditions. It also reminds us of the importance of establishing justice and a sense of responsibility and caring in the workplace.

Well today in Malta it’s a beautiful spring day and I wanted to take the opportunity to link this special celebration day with our food choices… especially as they apply to our islands.

Do you ever consider where your food is produced and by whom?

A basic rule is to, as much as possible, opt for local food to sustain local farmers, producers and workers.

Where feasible buy directly from farms, wayside vendors, Farmers’ markets. Read the labels on the fruit and vegetable produce crates or price tags to check the origin; or ask  the vendor.

Make the effort to learn which foods other than fruits and vegetables are produced locally. Apart from the staple fresh products such as bread, dairy, cold cuts and pastries, check out frozen, canned and dried packaged foods as well. Tomato, vegetable and fruit products, as well as frozen pizzas, pies and pasta dishes are some things which come to mind.

And do not forget the myriad of tea-time pastries and preserves. The market is being flooded with imported cakes, muffins and cookies; yet we can boast a vast array of traditional tea-time sweets which are still being produced by local bakeries. These are available directly from the bakeries (where there’s nothing which beats the aroma of these freshly baked products – particularly qagħaq tal- ħmira [sweet dough rings], my downfall), from corner shops, supermarkets, mobile vendors, open-markets and now even the soon-to-open new Artisan Market in Vittoriosa.

This Artisan Market also selling food is a fairly new concept for Malta and will offer the opportunity for local producers to market their organic or ‘aiming to be organic’ fruit, vegetables, juices, cheese, herbs, breads, eggs, preserves, wines and honey….and for us consumers to buy them. Whilst it enriches our taste palate and cultural appreciation to consume foods from around the world, acknowledging and more frequently opting for the products of local workers is a sustainable action to consider.

Of course, buying only locally produced food is something which most of us Maltese cannot envisage and practically adhere to. So when it comes to choosing imported foods what can we keep in mind? In keeping with the Workers’ Day theme, I wanted to emphasise Fairtrade products.

Buying Fairtrade foods means that you are buying foods which have been produced in a way which respects the farmers’ and workers’ rights to a fair price, good working conditions and a healthy and thriving living community.

The basic standards for a product to be certified Fairtrade are spelt out in the Fairtrade Foundation’s website as follows:

– Ensure a guaranteed Fairtrade minimum price, which is agreed with producers

– Provide an additional Fairtrade premium, which can be invested in projects that enhance social, economic and environmental development

– Enable pre-financing for producers who require it

– Emphasize the idea of partnership between trade partners

– Facilitate mutually beneficial long-term trading relationships

– Set clear minimum and progressive criteria to ensure that the conditions for the production and trade of a product are socially and economically fair and environmentally responsible.

(http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/what_is_fairtrade/fairtrade_certification_and_the_fairtrade_mark/fairtrade_standards.aspx)

The availability of Fairtrade food products is still limited in Malta. Here I mean both physical and economic availability. A few of the larger supermarkets and one local Fairtrade speciality shop in Valletta (http://www.l-arka.org/) will stock items such as coffee, tea, juices, wine, beer, chocolate, pasta, rice, barley, couscous, biscuits, muesli, preserves, spreads, sweets, packet snacks, sugar and spices. (Actually whilst I’m writing I’m thinking this is quite a good range of products.) The reality is that these retail outlets are not convenient for all and, perhaps, what is more restrictive is that in many cases the prices may be quite high compared to non-Fair trade products. Still, whilst you might not include such products on your weekly food shopping list, it is worth considering buying some of the more longer-lasting items. Additionally, these products will surely make a meaningful birthday, Christmas, Father or Mother’s Day gift for anyone who believes in the principles of Fairtrade, sustainability and workers’ rights.

So today, as you are drinking your coffee or juice, or nibbling on a biscuit, give a thought to all those workers who have helped to bring that product to your table. Consider how you can contribute more to their wellbeing and to sustainable development. Start consuming more local and more Fairtrade products, and encourage others to do the same. In Margaret Mead’s words “Never doubt the ability of a small group of committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

(For more on Fairtrade you can also visit the DOLCETA Consumer Education website – www.dolceta.eu. Click on Sustainable Consumption and search for ‘fair trade’.)

The day after…Healthy Weight Week

January 23, 2011

Today is January 23rd. The first day after Healthy Weight Week was celebrated in the USA (January 16-22).

For several years now, I have been following this special week with great interest. Initiated by Francie M. Berg (editor of the Healthy Weight Journal), the idea is to celebrate interventions which promote a healthy weight and a healthy body image; and also to name and shame  the past year’s worst weightloss diets, products and claims. The latter is done on ‘Rid the World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day.’

One reason I named this entry ‘The day after’ is that many consumers are often  lured into trying out weightloss diets and different products, only to realise very soon that these do not work. Clever marketing strategies highlight the ‘benefits’ and ‘special properties’ of these  diets or products, often quoting the science imprecisely or inadequately to argue their point. In the long-term, many of these weightloss diets and products  prove to be useless or occasionally even harmful. It is also well known that one of the outcomes of society’s and the media’s overemphasis on weight, as reflected in appearance, is disordered eating.

Weightloss, where this is truly needed, is no easy task. In many cases, however,  small and gradual lifestyle changes are enough to set one on the right track. Eating a variety of foods,  with an emphasis on low-energy (i.e. low calorie) but  nutrient-dense (i.e. rich in nutrients) foods, accompanied by a good amount of physical activity is the basic  formula. This clearly points to increasing plant food intake (vegetables, fruits, pulses, wholegrain cereals) and opting for low fat milk and milk-products, lean meat and low calorie beverages (e.g. water). It also points to choosing low fat cooking methods, such as steaming, grilling, and stir-frying, and making physical activity a regular feature in ones daily/weekly routine.

Two sets of awards are highlighted during Healthy Weight Week. These are the ‘Healthy Body Image Awards’ aimed at prevention of disturbed eating, body dissatisfaction and eating disorders; and the ‘Slim Chance Awards’ aimed at exposing the fad diets, gimmicks and false promotions.

 The ‘Healthy Body Image Awards’ winners for 2010 were:

‘A Chance to Heal’: a multi-workshop programme for middle and high school students, adults and families, and the health care community focusing primarily on  dissonance (http://achancetoheal.org)

‘In Favor of Myself’: an innovative 8-session preventive programme to promote positive self and body image widely disseminated among youth in Israel;

‘Healthy Body Image’: a 4th through 6th grade curriculum emphasising positive body image, appreciation of inner strengths, resistance to marketing pressures among others (http://www.bodyimagehealth.org )

 – ‘Body Rocks’: a school and community peer education club focusing on positive body image and eating disorders prevention.

This year’s finalists in the ‘Slim Chance Awards’ were:

Lapex BCS Lipo Laser, using laser light treatment for spot reduction (worst gimmick);

– HCG, a pregnancy-related hormone placed under the tongue to mobilise fat (worst product);

– Ultimate Cleanse, that builds on a myth re the need to detoxify the body (worst claim);

Basic Research, a marketer of bogus products with a long history of Federal Trade Commission (US) violations, warnings, charges and fines (most outrageous).

One must realise that due to global marketing and internet shopping, many  products like those mentioned above are available and accessible worldwide. Therefore, as Home Economics educators or other educators promoting healthy eating and a healthy weight we need to help our students / clients to be more consumer savvy. We also need to teach the basic principles of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

For more on Healthy Weight Week and research and information on obesity, eating disorders, weight loss and healthy living at any size see http://www.healthyweight.net/hww.htm

For a 22-year history of Slim Chance fads and frauds see www.healthyweight.net/fraud.htm

Good for you; good for the environment

December 28, 2010

(Image (c) Barilla; Source: http://www.barillacfn.com/en/pyramid)

As we approach the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, typically many of us are making their New Year’s resolutions.  A common resolution is to improve our diet – “I must cut down on those high-fat, high-salt packet snacks”. “I should really ban fizzy sugary drinks from our dinner table.” “I need to drink more water.” The goal is often to manage our weight and to safeguard against illness and health problems. Good for us!

But have you ever stopped to think that choosing to improve our diet as a New Year’s resolution might have additional value…beyond personal gain?  Well it does! It can also help to safeguard the natural environment.

You have probably often heard the food-related slogan “Good for you, good for the environment.” Some of you may already use it in your educational settings. It seems, however, that this food choice principle is now being given much more importance both by governments and by industry.

In 2009, the government of Sweden proposed a new set of dietary guidelines combining health and environmental impact. (http://www.slv.se/upload/dokument/miljo/environmentally_effective_food_choices_proposal_eu_2009.pdf) Recommendations in the Environmentally Effective Food Choices proposal included: eating locally produced meat, chicken, fruits, vegetables and berries, eating sustainable fish, avoiding bottled water and palm oil, and limiting rice consumption (as its production results in large amounts of methane). Unfortunately, these guidelines were not approved by the EU Commission who said that they would encourage Swedish consumers to choose locally produced products at the expense of products from other countries, which contravenes the principles of free movement of goods in the EU internal market. Although the original proposers (the National Food Administration) made revisions to the guidelines to address this criticism, the Swedish government eventually decided to withdraw the proposed guidelines.

Nonetheless, this interest in guiding consumers on the food and sustainability link is gaining momentum in Europe.

This past September the German Council for Sustainable Development published their updated Sustainable Shopping Basket guide. (http://www.nachhaltigkeitsrat.de/fileadmin/user_upload/English/pdf/publications/brochures/Brochure_Sustainable_Shopping_Basket_September_2010.pdf) With respect to food they recommend that the consumer’s shopping basket “should contain above all  healthy food products, organic products,  seasonal fruit and vegetables grown locally,  less meat and fish, fair-trade products and beverages in recyclable packaging units.” The guide also explains sustainability-related labels to look for when making food choices.

The above Swedish and German recommendations are in tune with a December 2009 report by the UK’s Sustainable Consumption Commission which mapped out synergies and tensions between public health, the environment, economic stability and social inequalities. ( http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications/downloads/Setting_the_Table.pdf) The Setting the Table’s priority recommendation for changes likely to have the most significant and immediate impact on making our diets more sustainable was: Reduce consumption of meat, dairy products, and fatty and sugary (low nutritional value) foods, and waste less food.

The food industry is also pitching in with their research and guidance. Just recently, in December 2010, the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) published what they called a Double Pyramid to graphically represent the link between the well-known food pyramid and the generation of greenhouse gases, water use and the ecological footprint. (http://www.barillacfn.com/en/pyramid) Although the food pyramid depicted is not the same as that of the WHO Europe CINDI Healthy Eating Guide, its concept is the same and food group placements are similar. Eat-often foods found at the base of the food pyramid, such as bread, pasta and wholegrains are shown to have a lower impact on the environment than meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs and fats, oils and sweets found higher up in the pyramid. In other words, recommended foods for health are more environment-friendly and vice-versa.

The Double Pyramid and the rationale behind it was presented at an open debate at the European Parliament and discussed by a panel of MEPs and food policy experts. MEP Paolo de Castro warned: “The issue of food supply, fuelled in recent years by the exponential growth in demand, particularly in some areas of the world, is leading us onto dangerous ground. Food is destined to become an insufficient and costly resource. Today’s challenge is to increase productivity, with fewer resources and less pollution.”

These words echo those of Professor Joan Gussow, noted American nutritionist and environmental scientist, who nearly a quarter of a century ago, wrote ”Learning to view foods as more than just sources of nutrients may guide consumers toward sustainable food choices. A shift to sustainable diets would be an important first step in widespread adoption of a sustainable agriculture policy that promotes the conservation of natural resources and regional self-reliance in food production and consumption.”

So if you are teaching or writing about the food pyramid, food groups and healthy eating, there is very good reason to also emphasise the sustainability link. (For more on this you might also want to check out the Dolceta website on Sustainable consumption [http://www.dolceta.eu/malta/Mod5/spip.php?rubrique1], as well as Seasonal and Sustainable an interesting recipe book recently published by my Home Economist colleague Karen Mugliett [http://www.timesofmalta.com/life/view/20101211/news/healthy-cuisine-for-every-season].)

And finally, as you make your New Year’s resolutions, choose one or two related to sustainable food consumption. Remember that from the health perspective: What’s good for you is very probably good for the environment.

Food for Julia – Breast is best

October 8, 2010

Baby Julia was born 2 weeks ago on September 23rd. In honour of my beautiful new niece I have decided to write a blog about breastfeeding.

We have often heard the phrase ‘breast is best’. It’s been around as a promotional message for quite a while now. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the infant’s life, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.

The list of benefits of breastfeeding is constantly growing.

Well-known benefits for the infant include that breast milk:

  • Comes at the right temperature and consistency for the child
  • Provides the right balance of nutrients to help an infant grow into a strong and healthy toddler
  • Has disease-fighting antibodies that can help protect infants from several types of illnesses, such as ear infections, diarrhea and certain lung infections
  • Reduces the risk that the child becomes overweight as it grows older
  • Reduces the risk that the child suffers from type 2 diabetes, eczema, and leukemia as it grows older.

Some recent research also suggests that breast milk contains two amino acids (protein building blocks) which help an infant’s brain develop and also increase the infant’s cognitive skills. These amino acids are not normally added to formula milk available commercially.

But the benefits of breastfeeding do not pertain to the infant only. The mum stands to gain a lot too. Benefits we are all familiar with include:

  • The emotional bonding with the infant
  • The cost savings
  • The convenience
  • The mother regaining her pre-pregnancy weight and figure more quickly
  • A natural method of birth control.

Interestingly, a number of recent scientific research studies are suggesting that there are even more health benefits for mothers if they breastfeed. For example:

  • Women who breastfeed for at least 24 months over the course of their reproductive lifespan have a lower risk of developing heart disease. Researchers suggest that this could be due to the beneficial effects that breastfeeding has on the body’s metabolism of sugar and fats, and on decreasing visceral fat—the dangerous kind that collects around the abdominal organs.
  • Mothers who breastfeed also have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Research has found that women who breast-fed for less than a month had nearly twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decades later in life compared to those who breast-fed for longer, or those who never had children. A possible explanation is that lactation makes cells more sensitive to the hormone insulin. (Notably, diabetic mothers who breast-feed usually require less insulin whilst they are nursing.) It could also be due to breastfeeding’s effect on where fat is stored: on the hips and thighs rather than on the abdomen. Excess visceral fat, frequently accumulated during pregnancy, is a key risk factor in adult diabetes.
  • Breastfeeding for 6 months or more helps protect against breast cancer in women who have their first baby after age 25, or who have fewer than four children (two risk factors for breast cancer). Prolonged breastfeeding also lowers a woman’s lifetime risk of ovarian and endometrial cancer. This could be because breastfeeding suppresses ovulation—and the ovulatory hormones that play a role in these cancers—during those first few months that the mother is breastfeeding exclusively.
  • A number of studies have linked breastfeeding to protection against rheumatoid arthritis, possibly due to breast milk’s impact on the levels of female sex hormones, like oestrogen and certain androgens, which are thought to play a role in this debilitating condition.

The WHO has a very simple yet interesting slideshow called ‘10 facts on breastfeeding’ which summarises the above.  Click http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/breastfeeding/facts/en/index9.html to access.

So calling all new mums! Remember…You are a very special person because you can make the food that is uniquely perfect for your baby. Do your best to breastfeed for at least the first 6 months of your baby’s life. Invest the time in yourself and your baby – for both your sakes!

Tales from the fridge

August 24, 2010

I first learnt about this project by photographer Mark Menjivar through an article written by Elizabeth Ryan in the UTNE reader. (http://www.utne.com/Arts/Slideshow-What-Is-in-Your-Fridge.aspx).

It struck me as to how a mere photograph of the inside of a refrigerator could conjure up so many images of the person or persons in that household who were consuming the food depicted.

As Mark Menjivar himself says “A refrigerator is both a private and a shared space. One person likened the question, ‘May I photograph the interior of your fridge?’ to asking someone to pose nude for the camera. Each fridge is photographed ‘as is.’ Nothing added, nothing taken away.”

In fact, I feel that ‘You are what you eat’ is a very appropriate title for the exhibition / slide show Mark has created from this project.

The types, variety (or not) and amounts of foods and beverages inside the fridge tell me stories about personal characteristics of the consumers such as:

  • The food enjoyed
  • The food which is familiar
  • Interest in ‘healthy’ food
  • Interest in ‘fresh’ food
  • Interest in ‘local’ food
  • Typical portion sizes
  • Openness to novelty.

 The food labelling, the food packaging and how organised the fridge is suggest other stories about these persons such as:

  • Use of claims and symbols to choose their food
  • The food which is accessible
  • The food which is convenient
  • Time for food preparation
  • Where food is eaten (eating out vs. at home vs. ordering in)
  • Value of avoiding food wastage
  • Awareness of food hygiene and safety.

Of course the photos will just allow you to ‘guess’ the profiles of these individuals. Only a properly conducted interview will tell you the full story.

Still, I agree with Mark’s description and see  these photos as portraits of people’s lives, cultures and perhaps their values. What do they feed themselves? How important is food in their lives? How far do they link food with their identity? How far do they see their food choices as impacting others, or as impacting the environment?

Go to this link http://www.markmenjivar.com/ then click on projects -> you are what you eat -> images for a slide show of 20 of Mark’s photos and a description of the related households.

Enjoy the show and come up with your own stories and questions.

Anybody for some wine…sort of?

August 15, 2010

A good glass of red wine is appreciated by many as an accompaniment to their meal. And wine is often used to add that special flavour to a recipe we are cooking. However, there’s a new wine product on the market which comes neither in a bottle nor in a carton, but in a bag. It’s called wine flour.

Wine flour is made by taking grape skins and seeds (called pomace in the wine-making industry), drying and sifting them, and then milling them until they are incredibly fine. The resulting flour offers many of the healthy components that researchers have discovered in red wine, such as the anti-oxidant resveratrol. It is also rich in iron, calcium and fibre, and is a good source of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

Food technologists and recipe developers claim that wine flour has no impact on a product’s texture when used in calculated amounts. However, it does have a significant effect on taste and colour. Of note is the deep burgundy hue it gives to products and dishes to which it is added.

Wine flour is already being used or trialled in foods such as breads, crackers, bagels, muffins, cereal bars, pasta, as well as protein beverages or tea. Restaurant menus in the USA and Canada list items such as Cabernet pizza dough, Purple-hued Fettuccine with Baby Octopus, Olives and Tomatoes and Cabernet Chocolate Lava Cake, to name a few.

I have not come across wine flour or wine flour products in Malta yet, but would not mind tasting any of them given the above menu items. Of course, the sustainability aspect and health value of wine flour are noteworthy as well. What do you think?